Fire & forget

Though I flinch at much military jargon, because it lacks either euphony or wit, there is good meat lurking in the alphabet soup. At the moment I’m abuzz with the poetry of, “fire and forget.” These are missiles of modest size and weight with good dexterity, and a range of a few hundred miles. They are programmed to find a destination, much as the gizmos in gentle reader’s car. There are almost as many species of these missiles as there are of bats, and once launched, they are almost as hard to hit with any sort of ordnance. Tucked nicely under the wing of a fighter jet, they may be flown within range of the target and — ping! — off they go. Bit of a roar, too; though the pilot doesn’t see or hear the — bang! — when they arrive. That would be even more satisfying. Boys love this sort of thing, and these days girls get to play, too.

It is an expensive hobby, however; even the little fire-and-forgetters, so light they can be lifted by a girl, come in kits with launchers that will cost jolly taxpayer back home an arm and five legs. The bigger ones, that need lifting by a powerful aeroplane, cost much more. (Twelve arms and forty legs, I’ve heard.) I often wonder if, in the Middle East or elsewhere, it is easy to find cost-effective targets. Which is why, I suppose, when our air forces are in perfect control of the skies, we’re inclined to drop less sophisticated bombs. They give more bang for the buck, as it were.

We don’t count the cost of the administrative bureaucracy; that would come from another budget. I remember, from my own dreadful experience as a media hack, trying to get a more “inclusive” picture of the price involved in taking out a camel; or a chemical plant, for that matter. If you have a proper war, it might almost ruin you. But what can you do, on a planet like this?

There is also the question of blowing people up, including innocent bystanders, if you can find any. (Bystanders tend to be plentiful, but innocence is rare.) And of course, the inconvenience of being blown up oneself. All in all, the pacifists are right, for the more inclusively we look at it, the less sense war seems to make. But surrender to an enemy who is even worse than you are? Somewhere in the middle, we just muddle through.

History is like that. There are downsides and upsides, whichever way you turn. Prudence can hardly guess the half of them. There is usually a large constituency for “action,” once the media have done their job, to inflame us. (Later they can tell us how foolish we were to believe what they said.) Their deadlines fall every minute or two. The longer it takes to set the missiles up, the more impatient their audience becomes.

The results of action are invariably a mix. That’s why I’m generally against it.